This morning, after dropping the kids at school and Laura at work, I swung back to the neighborhood. Got two coffees at May Day Cafe, and drove over to pick up Alondra so that we could listen in on the session proposing HF322 to move to the Public Safety Committee of the State Legislature. The bill passed 9 – 6 in favor.
The bill proposes to be able to file civil suits and, in turn, collect damages from individuals to “recover costs” for those who have been arrested during public protests. HF322, brought to the floor by Rep. Nick Zerwas MN30A (who I am sure has been greatly effected by the throngs of protesters in Elk River over the last few harrowing years) is tactically vague and draconian. It fits perfectly into the mind-set of these times. There’s plenty to be concerned about right now, this bill being one of them. The measure, in essence, is a tactic to 1.) intimidate and corral potential protest, 2.) give more leeway and narrative framing ability to the police in regard to tactics of crowd control and its aftermath, and 3.) create a system to tie up the courts with “do-gooder” lawyers, tiring them out with cases to handle – of merit, though much of the dog & pony show variety – while other cases and incidents get less attention. Like Trump and Co. have already shown in just five days in office, disruption and confusion is their go-to tactic; a slight of hand to dismantle the demos and its strengths.
I hate going into government buildings. They give me the fucking creeps. And, generally speaking, I try to shy away from working with the electorate. Electoral politics isn’t where my heart lies, and I often find them playing catch up to my own desires for the world I wish to live in. But this fight we are in will take all of us. The words of, among others at the session, Reps. Omar and Dehn were a relief. Their questions and commentary illustrated their deep commitment to the long fight ahead.
Many individuals associated with BLM were also present. Jason Sole, and especially the always passionate and inspiring John Thompson, were there to make the point that HF322 was proposed, in large part, as a response to BLM protests and shutdowns (MOA, 4th Precinct, I-94, etc…) over the last few years. The point, rightly, was made that this is, in effect, a law to systematically silence black dissent. We’ve seen this before and there is no reason to think that it wouldn’t, in a viciously organized and populist fashion, rise to the surface again.
But herein lies the problem, and in certain regard, the dog whistle to those who feel that now, after all this time, they must act and get in the streets with BLM and others fighting for justice. Zerwas and Co. propose this bill, yes, in response to the generous and necessary work of BLM and their allies, but also as a means of stopping dissent off at the pass and corralling future action, or at least momentarily confusing it, from all parties. It is a bill that shouts to non-POC, to the middle class of all colors who have been concerned, but out of the fight, to stay on their couches and keep scrolling through Facebook. A warning that the street, the highway, isn’t simply not safe for body, but unsafe for your bottom line and bank account. BLM inspire you? Trump got you all riled up? Pissed at the future environmental disaster that is DAPL? Tweet about it, but don’t make a move. Stay shackled to your digital soapbox.
But if we are to move past this moment, and force the reigns of power away from the fascists, the Republicans, the middling liberal Democrats, the skinheads who are energized and emboldened by this moment, the corporate CEOs and those who profit off their devastation of land, people, and future then getting into the streets (along with so much more) is exactly what we will have to do. And the streets will need to be filled across issue: BLM against DAPL. Middle class Edina mothers and fathers marching and blocking highways for the lives of indigenous women, and so much more.
This confounding group who, without forethought, can seem at cross-purposes or antagonistic to one another is exactly the coalition that will bring about another world. Otherwise we have no power. If HF322, and the many subsequent bills to be proposed in the future, stay an anti-BLM measure alone, they will do so precisely because their intimidation tactics for a larger body of cross-issue dissent was locked up by fear before it could gain momentum and strength. That is exactly what they want and exactly why this bill is moving forward.
About ten years ago I took an amazing and inspirational road trip around the country visiting past sites of social upheaval and dissent. I stood on the roadside along a highway in rural Alabama where a group of racists had firebombed a bus taking Freedom Riders from one destination to the next. A hotel in Montana where an IWW organizer fighting for the rights of striking miners had been abducted from his hotel room, dragged through the streets, and had his corpse deposited in front of the union hall with the dimensions of a grave carved into his back. The people whose lives, across an American history of dissent that I encountered, were not extraordinary. That is to say they were not born with special gifts that allowed them abilities that you and / or I do not possess. They simply had had enough and were compelled to act. They sought out the tools and relationships that manifest change in the world because they were compelled to live in a world that was just, fair, and vibrant.
On this same trip I visited, with my dear friend Dan S Wang, the University of Michigan’s Labadie Collection. Just that day the archive had received a very special new addition to the collection; a photo album featuring individuals, and more striking to me, group family portraits of individuals, who took part in the Paris Commune of 1871. Anarchist, revolutionaries all, these mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, lovers, looked so unthreatening. So, startlingly, middle class and comfortable. Radical is not the adjective I would have used to describe them. And yet there they were. Coming from many different walks of life, many different stories to share, they stood at barricades, conjoined their homes to create new streets by blasting through the walls of their apartments. They fought and died together, because they, in collaboration, believed that between their diverse set of experiences another world was possible. I looked at these photos – at their normalcy, their pedestrian quality – and thought, “how isn’t this me?”
As I walked away from the Capitol this morning and headed back to the car with Alondra I could not help but remind myself of when I held that photo album in my hands.
“How isn’t this me?” That is the question, with all the complications it entails, that we need to be asking ourselves, and ourselves in proximity or in distance to one another, as scare tactic, fascistic, “no wait NOW is the time we get into the street TOGETHER!” bills like HF322 are brought to committee by cowards and sycophants like Nick Zerwas.